This content was a team project by Cori, Leandra, Camille and Jackie
Pitfalls, benefits, and best practices of responding to a social crisis in your marketing
Many brands have scrambled to respond to recent events with statements of social responsibility. Though these messages are well‑intentioned, some have received backlash. Critics ask, "Why now and not before?" Or "Where is the proof of action behind your words?"
We know the impulse to respond to a societal crisis can be cathartic and well‑intentioned. Don’t squelch that. But instead of pouring your heart into a singular email signaling your moral stance, pause.
Take a deep breath.
Do some soul‑searching to align your business practices to sincerely address social issues. Only then can you authentically reflect your stance and response in your communications.
Brands that want to appear good should first be good—then tell that story!
Below, we outline why brand social responsibility matters, the pitfalls of responding only in a crisis, and the best practices for establishing a consistent message of social responsibility.
Why brand social responsibility matters
Today’s consumers weigh more than cost and convenience when making a purchase decision. Now more than ever, buyers want to trust the brands they support.
From a separate Accenture study of 30,000 consumers, we learned that people are more likely to trust (and support!) brands that
- promote honesty
- innovate to improve health and prosperity
- offer tangible results of a company’s social or environmental efforts
These same values of honesty, responsibility, and transparency are reflected in the American Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics. This further confirms our belief that authentic, consumer‑oriented marketing is the best way to sustain your business.
Pitfalls to avoid when responding to a social crisis
When a moment of crisis heightens awareness of a particular social issue, it’s common to feel compelled to respond to the community in pain. But there are reasons some messages are met with praise while others are met with criticism.
If you feel your brand or organization must respond to an unfolding crisis, remember that your brand’s message must be authentic. Avoid messaging that could strike customers or clients as
- Perfunctory. Make sure your message is more than a symbolic, performative gesture that you care. Back it up with action.
- An attempt to avoid criticism. Creating a brand‑new moral philosophy in times of crisis can seem like an attempt to get out of hot water or to fit in with brands that are truly making a difference.
- Opportunistic. Customers will see through your attempts to get more sales or praise by taking advantage of the situation. Opportunistic messaging will backfire.
Your message should reflect what your brand does to be part of the solution at all times, not just now.
A final, separate pitfall is disrupting your inbound marketing efforts with moral messaging that seems out of place within the context of your usual content. Your blog exists to generate leads. Content on the blog should address buyer personas’ questions in the awareness stage. Blog content is not about you and your stance—it’s about your buyers and their concerns. Brand social responsibility stories usually belong on a separate page of the website, such as the About Us section.
Best practices for communicating brand social responsibility
There are many good reasons to incorporate social responsibility into your organization’s overall marketing efforts. Customers want to support companies and organizations—big, small, and in between—that demonstrate strong ethics and stewardship of human beings and the planet. Rather than establishing your ethics in one fell swoop, consider these best practices for communicating brand social responsibility.
- Remember that change starts from within.
Reflect on your hiring practices. Reflect on your leadership style. Talk to your employees about how they perceive the work environment.
In a recent ADWEEK article, Justina Omokhua, SVP Brand Marketing of Endeavor, said, “There are a lot of people who feel the need to reach out to their Black employees [amid protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd]. While I applaud that, if you’ve never reached out to your Black employees before, then it seems very disingenuous, and the response you get may not be so nice.” ADWEEK continued, “If you do choose to take this route ... you should be prepared to accept, acknowledge and then address the issues that they have brought to the table.”
- Reflect on your personas.
When you look at your buyer personas (fictional representations of your ideal customers), are you considering everyone you could help with your products and services? Are you leaving anyone out?
A mission statement about inclusivity from a brand that does not create content for all types of customers will appear unaligned and untrustworthy.
- Start with a mission statement.
Rather than addressing social issues ad hoc, start with a brand message platform that communicates your mission, what you believe, and what you’re doing about it. An established page on your website gives you a foundation to extend the conversation authentically on your blog and social channels.
- Consider perspective.
Once you have a mission statement and actions to back it up, you are better positioned to tell stories about your brand’s successful social responsibility efforts.
Moving forward, in your enewsletter, blog, and other marketing, it’s important to write about the issues your personas care about. If you find yourself saying “I” and “we” a lot, it’s usually a bad sign. Talk more about the subjects your customers and your community care about, that you have expertise in—not as much about your brand or what you think or feel.
- Focus on what you know and do.
Instead of forcing content that exhibits your social awareness, slow down, and focus on what you know. Maybe your nonprofit has always celebrated community or has invested a great deal of energy into boosting accessibility. How can you focus on, celebrate, and bolster your ongoing efforts within the context of current social issues? Maybe there’s a partnership or program that you established and have neglected. Make it right before looking for new activities to make a difference.
Infuse new awareness into what you already do and know rather than pushing content that could seem inconsistent with your brand’s past messaging.
A sustainable approach to brand responsibility
In addition to building a mission statement, focusing on what you know, and backing up words with actions, remember that your brand’s social responsibility statement does not live in a vacuum. It should be part of an entire sustainable marketing strategy.
Authentically sustainable, purpose‑driven brands and the people‑planet‑profit model are winning across the board—economically and socially.